Originally published Sept. 12, 2019 by the Public News Service.

By Roz Brown

Iowa schools are introducing new physical education standards this school year that provide teachers with a framework to strengthen instruction from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Stacy Frelund, government relations director for the American Heart Association of Iowa, says the organization was on the team that made the recommendations.

She notes that Iowa has the 10th highest obesity rate for youths ages 10 to 17.

She says that’s likely because screen time by children is creeping up – from phones, to social media, to online gaming – making the new health and physical education guidelines more important than ever.

“Physical education classes are classes, and they have curriculum just like science and math classes do,” she stresses. “You can’t just go out and play dodgeball for an hour. It gets into mental health, even, and how to adapt PE to kids that might have challenges.”

The American Heart Association recommends parents and children adopt the daily ‘5-2-1-0′ rule: five fruits and vegetables per day, two hours of screen time, one hour of exercise and zero sugar-sweetened beverages.

Iowa’s new health and physical education standards, which are optional for schools, outline what a student should know and be able to do at each grade level.

Frelund says like adults, children who exercise report reduced anxiety, better sleep and improved blood sugar control.

She notes there also are long-term cognitive benefits.

“Kids’ health is so important that it shouldn’t be something that we forget and make last on the list,” she stresses. “Especially when you look at how physical activity and physical education can really impact, like, kids’ brains and the test scores and how they’re doing in some of their other classwork.”

The American Heart Association’s Kids Heart Challenge teaches elementary school students the importance of keeping their heart healthy by participating in basketball, dance, obstacle course activity and jumping rope.

Funds raised through the program support scientific research and outreach programs.

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